Why I Choose to Belong

Our family went on a beach trip over the weekend. Having driven to this destination before, Peter and I were confident that we could find our way easily without needing any directions or a map. We were two intelligent people who could certainly find a beach they had been to before, right?

Well, not all intelligent people are good at finding the beach.

All I remember from the last time we went there was that we followed the general direction of all the other beach resorts. They were bound to be all together anyway, so it should be safe to just follow the arrows leading to the other beaches. So at the first fork on the road we encountered, Peter asked me which direction to take, and I said, “Just follow the signs pointing to the beach!” and confidently pointed left.

It’s easy! Just follow the sign…er, give me a sec.

It’s funny how provincial towns and farming landscapes kind of all look the same in that part of Luzon (okay, in the end, it wasn’t so funny). We were about 40 or so minutes into that last turn, with me commenting stuff like, “I remember this part,” when the drive was taking longer than expected. I started suggesting that we stop and ask for directions, just to be sure, but Peter wouldn’t slow down–until we reached an archway that wasn’t familiar at all. Finally we stopped to ask, and found out that we took a wrong turn about an hour ago.

Retracing our steps, and finally reaching the point of our wrong turn, we found that we had already been 10-15 minutes away from our destination when we read that sign pointing to the wrong beach. Me and my signs, Peter said to me.

Well, at least I didn’t have issues on asking for directions. Hmph.

I know a handful of people who don’t like asking for directions as well. They are those who are able to share about a relationship with Jesus, but have not set foot in a church for as long as I’ve known them. They give different reasons, none of them new nor revolutionary: an encounter with unholy clergy, finding church boring and pointless (or maybe just inconvenient), judging churchgoers as hypocrites, the whole “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual” argument.

I follow God…that is, God according to me.

And these people I know aren’t all of the rebellious type. One is part of a popular Music Ministry known for their liturgical music, and another even taught religion at a Catholic school at one point. They never ceased calling themselves Christian, and do not deny the presence of God in the Church, nor the holiness of some modern-day saints they’ve encountered. The Church is a wellspring of hope and joy, to be sure–just not for them. They believe in Jesus, but not in what they so distastefully consider as “organized religion.”

Even famous author Anne Rice, who so inspired me with her memoir “Called Out of Darkness” where she recounts her journey from Catholicism to atheism then back to the arms of the Church, sadly, has found obstacles too great to face, saying very publicly, “In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian.”

These Christians without a church claim to focus only on Christ and following His teachings, while failing to see that Christ intended for us to grow in community, in His Church. If Jesus wanted us to seek and follow Him on our own, then He would have established each of His apostles as Rock, with each of them developing his own faith and belief system. Yes, they all follow Christ, but follow Him on their own terms, their own limits, their own understanding and interpretation of His message. They will follow only the Christ that fits their purpose or their level of comfortability, almost as if to say theirs is the only reliable perception of Christ and His Word.

Much like Peter and I on our way to finding that elusive beach resort: the signs are all up and available, but what if we read the wrong signs, or interpret the right ones erroneously? And is it really so dreadful to stop and ask for directions?

I have a personal relationship with Jesus–I am “spiritual,” yes, but I am also religious, choosing to belong to a community of believers who struggle with me, follow Christ with me, believe with me. I choose to belong to His Church because when I get to Heaven, I want to be able to see some familiar faces.

Do not absent yourself from your own assemblies, as some do, but encourage each other; the more so as you see the Day drawing near. –Hebrews 10:25

And I’m not ashamed to ask for directions to make sure I get there.

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